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dc.contributor.advisorMehigan, Tim
dc.contributor.advisorRyan, Simon
dc.contributor.authorBarton, Peter Alexander
dc.identifier.citationBarton, P. A. (2015). Vocal Texts: Voice as productive obstruction in the early prose of Thomas Bernhard (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstractCan Thomas Bernhard’s prose be considered a contribution to the philosophy of the subject? In this thesis I consider whether the seductive power of Bernhard’s literary voice – its “Sprachsog” (Eyckler, 1995) – is also the cause of the texts’ interpretive difficulties. I explore how the desire for a voice can be produced by its recalcitrance, and whether “voice” marks a point of necessary failure for both the subject and interpretive reasoning. In the title story of Thomas Bernhard’s 1978 collection of narrative fragments, Der Stimmenimitator, an impersonator is asked to give an imitation of his own voice. It is a challenge that defeats him and which brings the brief tale to an abrupt conclusion: “Als wir den Vorschlag gemacht hatten, er solle am Ende seine eigene Stimme imitieren, sagte er, das könne er nicht.” (S, 10) This self-reflexive catastrophe in which a voice speaks in order to acknowledge its failure to represent itself is the fundamental philosophical and literary problem of Bernhard’s prose. If speech is made possible by the rule-bound system of language, what it can never enunciate is its sonorous alterity – the necessary domain of non-meaning outside and prior to its own rational structure. The voice may provide the grounds for speech, but can itself never be adequately articulated. “Voice”, therefore, can be thought of as the phenomenon that at once enables a representation yet also prevents it from achieving completion, since it is what can never be narrated by narrative. This self-obstructing but productive poetology of voice is crucial to an understanding of Bernhard’s development as a prose author in the 1960s and early 1970s. In close readings of Frost (1963), Verstörung (1967) and Das Kalkwerk (1970) I will explore the way Bernhard contests the knowledge claims of visually privileged reasoning – embodied by the narrators – by confronting them with the irrational excesses of voice, operative in his texts at the level of both form and content. My analysis draws on three main theoretical bodies of work. First, I reference certain aspects of the debates on subjectivity and representation from early Romantic philosophy. Specifically, I see the Romantic concept of an Absolute produced by the positing action of articulation – a transcendent entity that can be spoken of but never spoken in language – as cognate with the pure surplus of the voice. Second, I draw heavily on Jacques Lacan’s concept of the “object voice”. For Lacan, voice is a partial aspect of the total sexual drive: it is productive of subjectivity precisely because it is detached from the subject, resonating as the promise of meaning in the objective terrain of the Other’s speech. Third, I make extensive use of Slavoj Žižek’s work which synthesises Lacan’s insights with the thought of certain German Romantic and Idealist philosophers. My conclusions point towards a poetology of self-negation in Bernhard’s work driven by the constitutive impossibilities of the voice. It is in these negativities that I locate Bernhard’s early Romantic affinities, both aesthetic and philosophical: it is the doomed attempt of the voice to speak the Absolute as anything but partial that yet produces the Absolute in its negative mode as failure. I see this commitment to negativity and limitation as the paradoxical source of Bernhard’s boundless productivity.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
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dc.subjectThomas Bernhard
dc.subjectTwentieth Century Austrian Literature
dc.subjectGerman Romanticism
dc.subjectJacques Lacan
dc.subjectSlavoj Žižek
dc.titleVocal Texts: Voice as productive obstruction in the early prose of Thomas Bernhard
dc.language.rfc3066en and Cultures of Philosophy of Otago
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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